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Anger Without Sin: Part 1

March 20, 2019 • Life for Leaders

“In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4:26-27

 

Have you ever done or said something in anger that you ended up regretting? I’ll guess the answer is yes. Just about any human being who has grown beyond infancy knows what it’s like to get mad and then do something unwise or unkind.

As I think back to occasions when I sinned because I was angry, I mostly remember things I said that I wished later on I had not said. For example, I recall a time when one of my elders at Irvine Presbyterian Church made a suggestion in a meeting that sparked my anger. Instead of listening carefully or remaining quiet or asking for clarification, I said—almost shouting—“Over my dead body!” Thanks be to God, this elder showed more restraint than I had shown.

The sad truth is that the very worst things I have said or done in anger have been directed at those I love most in the world. My wife and children have been the victims of my anger-induced sin. By God’s grace, I haven’t hurt them physically. But I have hurt them emotionally with my words, words I can’t retract even though I apologized for saying them.

If you can relate to what I’m sharing here, then you need the counsel of Ephesians 4:25 just as much as I do. This verse begins with a simple exhortation: “In your anger do not sin.” The quotation marks in our text show that Paul is quoting from the Old Testament, from Psalm 4:4 to be exact. The ancient Greek translation of this verse uses the same language as the Greek in our text. A literal translation would read: “Be angry and do not sin” (Psalm 4:5, LXX). Many contemporary translations and commentators argue that the Greek imperative is used more as a concession than a command. It means something like “If you are angry, though you really shouldn’t be, then don’t sin” rather than “Be angry but don’t sin.” Yet, no matter how we understand the first part of the quotation, the main point is clear. When you are angry, do not sin.

What kinds of sin follow from anger? Sometimes, physical violence, even murder. Sometimes anger leads to premeditated revenge. But mostly the sin that follows from anger is verbal. We say things that hurt, and sometimes the pain caused by angry words is deeper and more lasting than the pain of a physical blow.

The phrasing of verse 26, no matter how you translate it, seems to suggest that it’s possible to be angry without sinning. This may seem obvious to you, but I expect some readers might wonder about it. Isn’t anger always wrong, at least in some way? I’ll respond to this question tomorrow. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.

Something to Think About:

Can you remember times in your life when someone’s anger led to sinful behavior directed at you?

Can you remember times when your anger led you to sin? If so, how did you feel afterwards?

What helps you abide by the injunction “Do not sin” when you are angry?

Something to Do:

The human tendency to self-justification can make it hard for us to acknowledge times when our anger leads us to sin. If this fits for you, ask the Lord to reveal to you the truth of your own sin in times of anger. Be open to what the Spirit wants to teach you, not to shame you, but to heal you and help you grow.

Prayer:

Gracious God, I do not need further convincing. I know how my anger has led to sin. This grieves me, even though I know you have forgiven me. Lord, I ask for your help to do what this verse says. When I am angry, may I refrain from sinning. May your Spirit do whatever is necessary to quiet my tongue or subdue my outbursts. I want to honor you, dear Lord, at all times, even when I feel angry. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Listening, Taking Action, and Avoiding Anger (James 1:19–21)

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